The Supreme Court Will Decide Whether Police Need a Warrant for Sensitive Cell Phone Data

The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a landmark case that will determine how the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects cell phone data that tracks the detailed whereabouts of phone users over time.

In 2011, without getting a probable cause warrant, the government obtained from cell service companies several months’ worth of phone location records for suspects in a robbery investigation in the Detroit area. For one suspect, Timothy Carpenter, the records covered 127 days and revealed 12,898 separate points of location data, indicating information about where he prayed, slept, and more.

After Carpenter was convicted at trial, based in part on the cell phone location evidence, he appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that no warrant is required under the Fourth Amendment. The ACLU — along with the ACLU of Michigan and Carpenter’s defense attorney Harold Gurewitz of Gurewitz & Raben, PLC — petitioned the Supreme Court for review, leading to today’s decision to hear Carpenter v. United States.

Police seek cell phone location records from phone companies tens of thousands of times each year to assist with investigations. In most states, the law does not require a warrant for this information, despite the minute detail about people’s private lives that it reveals.

The Fourth Amendment was designed precisely to protect the kinds of intimate details that police seized without a warrant in Carpenter. For example, an analysis of Carpenter’s whereabouts suggests that he slept away from home on December 22, 2010, in what appears to be an aberration. The location data also shows that in the early afternoon on a number of Sundays, Carpenter made or received calls from the cell tower sectors nearest to his church. His cell phone records do not routinely show him in that area on other days of the week, implying that he was worshipping at those times. Together, the data reveals a granular accounting of Carpenter’s locations and movements over the four-month period.

Incidentally, the Supreme Court’s decision comes on the four-year anniversary of the first of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, which revealed that the National Security Agency had been collecting sensitive records about virtually every phone call made in the United States. After an appeals court found that the NSA’s bulk collection violated the law, and in response to the outcry over that revelation, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act to restrict the government’s surveillance authority. Depending on how it decides the Carpenter case, the Supreme Court could settle the broader question of how the Fourth Amendment protects all sorts of sensitive and voluminous digital records that about communications and activities.

New technologies, and their ballooning capacities to collect data about the people who use them, bring enormous conveniences to both regular users and law enforcement agencies that leverage them to solve crimes. But the fact that our whereabouts, habits, and associations often leave a digital trail doesn’t nullify the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom from unreasonable government searches.

The Supreme Court will now have a historic opportunity to help ensure that the data we leave behind when using essential digital devices are protected consistent with our founding principles.



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Barack Insane Obama

I hope the US Supreme Court doesn't allow people to track where Anthony Romero has been since he likes men and is a gay-gay.

Donald Dump the...

I love that Romero is gay-gay. I wish he was a fag-fag like me.


Unfortunately even if the Supreme Court says it's illegal doesn't mean it will stop. All it means is they won't be able to use the data in court as evidence. They (fascist members of government) will continue to collect the data and use it to build cases. For example, that bag of weed you texted your dealer for was and will be captured. Now they know who she is, they will reach out "legally" to your dealer. Make a deal and arrest.

The court will ask, how did you know she was a dealer? They will lie or make up a story about how they contacted her. Fascist will always find a way to lie.


Here how the ACLU can decode the two political parties:

By and large, most Republicans and so-called Conservatives seem to only support 2-1/2 amendments in the entire U.S. Constitution - the 2nd Amendment, the 10th Amendment and only the "Eminent Domain" clause in the 5th Amendment - they vote to violate the remaining 23-1/2 amendments plus most of the Articles - not very conservative.

Most Democrats are actually "Constitutional Conservatives" supporting almost the entire 27 amendments plus the Articles and Preamble.


Correction: meant 24-1/2


So is the constitution a "living document" or a "dead" one?

Who is each side?


Well said!


And I suppose that's why they remained silent while Obama wiped his ass with the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments? All of this shit went on during the Obama administration with either his knowledge or direct involvement.

Happy sukhi


Obama did not resolve the issues caused by practices started during the Bush administration.

Civil society didn't respond quickly nor collectively to the issue, either. Most of us believed the hype around "only criminals need worry", we fail to recognize our children, elders, disabled, victims of sex crimes, victims of violent crimes, LGBQT, minorities and active or retired military are all at risk.

Both domestic and foreign Terrorist would love to locate any threats by targeting active and retired veterans or their families to harm and remove any potential threats.
Both domestic and foreign Terrorist would love to target and locate our children, victims, elders, disabled and minorities for trafficking purposes.

We have yet to prove any benefits to prevent terrorist attacks exist.
We have way to measure the risk and harms against many as a result of the loss of constitional rights and liberties.


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